Potted Bust of Phoenix Mercury Star Brittney Griner in Russia Raises Embarrassing Questions

It looks like the ballpoint pens in basketball icon Brittney Griner’s duffel bag slipped away from her somewhere between Sky Harbor and Moscow’s main international airport, where she was arrested on drug charges a while ago. three weeks.

Instead of smoking at high Valley rooftop bars like Floor 13 and Orange Sky, the Phoenix Mercury star is accused of slipping his cannabis canisters up to 40,000ft in a carry-on bag last month . She faces up to 10 years in prison. according to Russian authorities.

Russia’s Federal Customs Service, which classified the cannabis stash as a “significant quantity”, said Griner would be detained while Russian law enforcement continued their investigation.

Her case highlights stark disparities between the US and Russian legal systems, but also raises less obvious questions about gender equity in basketball. The biggest league in the world treats men and women differently when it comes to their personal stash.

Despite more than 16,000 signatures on a Change.org petition to ensure the speedy and safe return of Griner to Arizona, US lawmakers say it will be “very difficult” to free the basketball star from his prison cell in Russia.

Drug-sniffing dogs flagged Griner on the New York-Moscow leg of the route to her seasonal home in Russia, where she has played for EuroLeague UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015.

Griner’s team is alone atop the Russian women’s basketball premier league standings for the playoffs as of Tuesday. The WNBA season will resume in Phoenix in May and run until mid-August.

Griner hopes to make Team Mercury 2022 when he returns to Phoenix.

But she might not.

The US State Department issued a “no travel” advisory for Russia on Saturday as the Kremlin continues to rain missiles on Ukraine. The warning cited “the potential for harassment of US citizens by Russian government security officials” as the reason Americans should leave the country immediately.

That led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to promise “all possible assistance” to Americans detained in Russia on Monday.

“Whenever a US citizen is arrested overseas, we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services,” he said.

But Griner’s livelihood is in Russia. And she tried to return to the country before the declaration of war.

Like many players in the WNBA and the G League, the NBA’s minor league organization, Griner plays basketball overseas during the U.S. offseason to make more money.

The WNBA’s two-time leading scorer and center earned up to $1.5 million for a season in Russia, compared to a base salary of $215,000 in the United States last season.

By comparison, the NBA’s top center, Nikola Jokić of the Denver Nuggets, makes nearly $30 million a year. NBA men play almost three times as many games in a season.

It’s more than money that tips the scales, however.

Since the passage of Prop 207 in 2020, Arizonans have smoked blunts, taken dabs, sautéed food and applied pain-relieving THC salves without much concern.

For the Mercury, however, inequality is still alive and well, and not just in player compensation packages.

The last collective agreement between the WNBA and its players, which is in effect until 2027, still prohibits the use of marijuana, and players who test positive “will be immediately fired and disqualified.”

But their male counterparts in the Phoenix Suns can, if they wish, continue the entire season without formal sanction.

The National Basketball Players Association, which represents only men, convinced the league to scrap random weed testing and “focus its random testing program on performance-enhancing products and drugs of abuse.” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in October.

NBA players in a coronavirus-free ‘bubble’ at Disney World in Orlando, Florida in 2020 were carefree as they described the massive amounts of marijuana they would need to “survive”. Meanwhile, WNBA players like Griner have been quarantined nearby in the Tampa Bay area, but no such claims have emerged.

Although marijuana is legal in Arizona, it remains illegal in Russia and the United States at the federal level. The federal government regulates all air travel.

Consequently, each of Major US airlines explicitly prohibit any kind of marijuana on their domestic and international flightseither in the cabin or in checked baggage.

Because Griner is a seasoned professional athlete who has spent years in Russia and travels frequently by plane, unsubstantiated theories have spread on social media that the weed was planted in her bag.

Lawyer and sports TV personality Adrienne Lawrence speculated on Twitter that the drugs were planted on Griner, in a widely circulated rumor.

“I won’t take a police report from Team Putin at face value — especially a report about the ‘discovery’ of drugs on a black person,” Lawrence said. “We only hear about it because Putin wanted it.”

The whole situation conjures up images of Griner-like Texas native Sha’Carri Richardson, who was a favorite for 100-meter medals before testing positive for cannabis. She was banned from competing at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, sparking outrage.

Outrage also followed Griner, who lives in South Mountain Village and has played in the Valley his entire professional career.

The Phoenix Mercury selected the 6-foot-9 center with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. She was burning to get into the draft after leading the Baylor University Lady Bears in 2012 to the first 40- 0 in women’s college hoops, crowned with an NCAA women’s title.

Griner went on to win two Olympic gold medals with Team USA and a WNBA championship with Phoenix in 2014, his second season in the league. She is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.

“We love and support Brittney and at this time our primary concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and safe return home,” the Mercury said in a statement.

Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.

Over time, Griner’s relationship with the WNBA soured.

She said she felt undervalued and underappreciated by the WNBA in 2019 after she was suspended for three games for tangling with Kristine Anigwe of the Dallas Wings.

Four years earlier, the league had slapped her with what was then the the longest suspension in its two-decade history following Griner’s domestic violence arrest at Goodyear. She was sentenced to Maricopa County Jail in downtown Phoenix and found herself plead guilty after his ex-wife, WNBA star Glory Johnson has filed assault charges against her. Griner and Johnson each received seven-game suspensions following the incident.

Johnson played three seasons with the Tulsa Shock before the team moved to Dallas and was renamed the Wings. After four seasons with Dallas, she played for the Atlanta Dream in 2020.

Despite the tensions, the WNBA is eager to see one of its star players return home to Phoenix.

“Brittney Griner has the full support of the WNBA and our top priority is her quick and safe return to the United States,” the league said in a statement.

There is hope for the future of weed destigmatization in the WNBA.

Sue Bird, longtime Seattle Storm point guard, is the face of cannabis supplier Mendiowned by another pioneer of women’s sport Megan Rapinoe, a professional soccer star.

Griner has also become another face of cannabis in women’s sports.

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